The Sacred Heart Crusaders and head coach Lonny Schraeder are ready for a fresh start in 2018 after a disappointing 2017 season marked by injuries, a season where the team finished with a record of 5-6 and missed the playoffs.

Given the circumstances with injuries and the fact that most players on the team play both offense and defense, Schraeder believes that his team showed fight.

“I thought the kids played really hard,” Schraeder said. “If you’re playing two ways, you’re twice as likely to get injured than if you’re playing one way. We had a bunch of kids going two ways [offense and defense].”

Heading into the 2018 season, the biggest question mark for the Crusaders is not injuries, but replacing key seniors from last year’s team, most notably key offensive contributors like running back Campbell Klein and receivers Joseph Bishop, Paul Rowell Jr and Jeremiah Smith. Those four players contributed to 2,741 of the 2,991 total yards of offense the Crusaders generated in 2017.

“[Klein] did a great job, he’s going to be hard to replace, and Joseph just did a phenomenal job,” Schraeder said. “I feel certain that they’ll be contributing eventually [at the college level].”

Right now, seniors Tanner Blakeney and Garrett Crowder are set to replace Klein at running back. Klein rushed for 1,183 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. The defense will benefit from the presence of Crowder, who led the team in tackles last year with 121 to go along with four sacks

With the departures of so many offensive playmakers at the skill positions, Schraeder believes that his offensive line will lead the way in 2018. Seniors Gavin Bradford, Ethan Mooney, Tyson Charles and sophomore Ethan Mistich are returning players in that unit who he believes will bolster the offense.

“I think our strength last year was our skill people; this year our strength is going to be our front guys,” Schraeder said.

With all of the turnover on offense, the most recognizable face of for the Crusaders on that unit will be quarterback Zach Weatherell. The senior played in all 11 games last season, throwing for 15 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and 1,641 yards in the process.

In order for Sacred Heart to have success offensively in 2018, Weatherell will need to stay healthy, cut down on turnovers, and mesh with the new offensive playmakers, especially in the backfield.

“In the offseason, I bet he’s put on 15 or 20 pounds, he looks really good, and I think he’s a lot more confident,” Schraeder said. “I think, what we’re doing, we’re going to have to run the ball first, doing that I think will take some pressure off of him and I think he’ll be a lot better.”

More questions remain for the 2018 Crusaders when it comes to defense. Last season, the Crusaders allowed their opponents to score more than 30 points in seven of their 11 games. 2017 seniors Grady Leek and Rowell, who had four and three sacks respectively, are also gone. Along with the presence of Crowder on defense, senior Dylan Pipkins has a chance to stand out as a linebacker after collecting 54 total tackles last season. Sacred Heart’s schedule is another factor to take into consideration when previewing the season. The Crusaders play the same opponents as they did last season, with the home and road matchups being switched around. Home matchups include games against Loyd Star, Richton, Resurrection Catholic, East Marion and Mount Olive, while the Crusaders will travel to Sumrall, North Forrest, St. Patrick, Lumberton, Salem

Sacred Heart’s schedule is another factor to take into consideration when previewing the season. The Crusaders play the same opponents as they did last season, with the home and road matchups being switched around. Home matchups include games against Loyd Star, Richton, Resurrection Catholic, East Marion and Mount Olive, while the Crusaders will travel to Sumrall, North Forrest, St. Patrick, Lumberton, Salem and Stringer.

“It’s going to be a tough schedule,” Schraeder said. “Just the non-district schedule is tough, but if you make it through healthy then you should be ready for your district schedule.”In order for Sacred Heart to find success on the field this season, the team needs to remain relatively injury-free, especially during district play. Additionally, solid performance at the running back position from Blakeney, Crowder or both will go a long way in providing a spark for the run-first offense. Crowder also has the opportunity to be the leader of the defense, both on and off the field.

In order for Sacred Heart to find success on the field this season, the team needs to remain relatively injury-free, especially during district play. Additionally, solid performance at the running back position from Blakeney, Crowder or both will go a long way in providing a spark for the run-first offense. Crowder also has the opportunity to be the leader of the defense, both on and off the field.Finally, if Sacred Heart can get efficient production through the air with Weatherell and his new receivers, then that will go a long way as well to providing some balance with the offense, which could translate to more wins.

If Sacred Heart can get efficient production through the air with Weatherell and his new receivers, then that will go a long way as well to providing some balance with the offense, which could translate to more wins.

 

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